Published August 5, 2021
Over the past decade or so there’s been an uptick in efforts in higher education to ensure students gain the knowledge and skills they need in the workforce. Indeed, many accrediting organizations now prioritize student assessment as a criterion when evaluating institutions and programs. Yet, experts say, many colleges and universities struggle to assess students’ attainment of essential skills — or competencies — in their programs. Student assessment can be especially challenging in fully online programs.
School of Public Health and Health Professions faculty have contributed a chapter to a new book that offers strategies to help institutions assess student competency attainment. “Exemplars of assessment in higher education: Diverse approaches to addressing accreditation standards,” edited by Jane Marie Souza and Tara A. Rose, shares examples of successful and innovative approaches to assess students, whether they earn their degree in person or online.
SPHHP was one of a few public health institutions to contribute to the book, specifically focusing on effective assessment in its master of public health (MPH) program. In the chapter, “Competency-Based Student Assessment in Online and In-Person Master of Public Health Programs,” faculty members Sarah Cercone Heavey, Gregory G. Homish and Kimberly Krytus describe developing and implementing an assessment plan for basic, or foundational, public health competencies of students in the program.
“Assessing students on their attainment of a specific set of foundational public health competencies is a new standard for accredited public health programs,” says Krytus, assistant dean and director of graduate public health programs. “We hope the approaches we shared in our chapter provide examples for other programs working to strengthen their student assessment practices.”
The chapter outlines innovative ways instructors assess UB’s MPH students to ensure they attain foundational competencies before they graduate. Those methods include focusing competency content in courses on active, engaging material rather than recorded lectures and slides, especially critical in online courses. For instance, instructors used discussion boards, blogs and collaborative documents where multiple people can contribute at the same time to make assessments interactive and engaging.
The chapter also notes the heightened need for innovative methods to assess such competencies as demonstrating interprofessional teamwork and negotiating to address public health challenges. For example, students who worked in small groups to negotiate for public health resources summarized their negotiation goals, techniques and outcomes in a reflective assessment after the negotiation took place, which supplemented the observational assessments made by instructors.
UB’s MPH program also collects data showing how well students attain each competency and uses the data to improve competency-based course content, ensuring that more students attain the competency before graduating.